We read a play today called The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by Rolin Jones. It was near-perfect: a tasteful mix of awkward Mormon comedy and painful identity-crisis drama. One of the most interesting aspects of the play, though, wasn’t the fact that the title character is a robot, or that the protagonist has OCD. It was that the play was told directly to the audience as though we were a bounty hunter being hired to find the (eventually lost) robot.
We find out immediately that we are, collectively, a bounty hunter; we don’t really know who we’re looking for, or why, or what the story is. We’re thrown into the action three days after it all happens, and then Jennifer (the protagonist) tells the story to us in what could be considered a series of flashbacks.
This is what’s called a “framework narrative,” and I’ve never seen it work so successfully in plays. Novels use this format all the time, because it allows the reader to enter the action at any given point in time and for the author to give exposition for the story at his or her own leisure. With a play, though, things tend to be different. Idris always talks about how when a playwright writes a script, he or she is absolutely not writing completed literature, like prose or poetry. The playwright is putting the skeleton for an event on paper, and it is the job of the production staff and the actors to make the event come to life.
The living nature of plays makes it harder for action to have already happened. That’s why I’m so impressed with Jones for writing a play using a framework narrative so successfully–the audience/bounty hunter is hooked on the story at once, without question, and we’re all of a sudden just along for the ride.
Anyway, I’m going to go look for more plays by Rolin Jones. Hopefully they live up to the standard.